Eventually, my denial system just broke down and with this collapse I experienced a painful and overwhelming vision of the truth. I guess that this is what happened at the cemetery. I saw myself dead or in jail and this really frightened me. I was broken and I surrendered into John’s arms and to all those people who helped me in Perth and Northam.
Adam’s Personal Story
Early recreational use
I was born in Brisbane 35 years ago. Mum had a fling whilst away nursing and I never got to meet my father. She later married my stepfather Terry and when I was a toddler the family moved to Dapto, a suburb of Wollongong in New South Wales. I have a half-brother and a half-sister.
I wasn’t a popular child at school, although I always tried to hang out with the popular crowd. I just didn’t get the same respect. I remember being in trouble at lot at high school. I used to give the teachers a lot of grief. Never got expelled, just suspended once.
I guess I was a typical rebellious teenager. I used to charge around on my BMX bike with the Bandits. I’d knick milk bottles off people’s doorsteps and pick up the morning’s newspaper from someone’s garden to give to my mum.
My fondest memories of being a teenager are surfing and growing dope plants. A neighbor used to grow cannabis plants and we would knick them. We then started to grow our own near the local golf course. We would use the high quality dirt from the golf greens and fertilizer from their shed. Got the plants growing as high as six feet in some cases, but we had to contend with local thieves – the deer.
I was drinking alcohol and smoking dope from about 15 or 16 years old. I used to pour some of mum’s wine into my drink bottle and take it to school. Had my first bong at 16 and used to smoke dope regularly during school time, out the back of the school grounds.
I left school when I was sixteen years old. I wanted to become a chef, maybe because I loved food. My first job was as an apprentice chef in a local café. However, I got the sack months later for drinking the cooking alcohol from the kitchen. I loved booze even at that stage, since it gave me a buzz and made the day go quicker. Put a bit of spark into my day.
I was taken on by a brickie who needed a helper and moved out of home to a granny flat in Farnborough Heights. I met a new gang of boys and starting drinking and smoking dope regularly. Tried acid on occasion as well. It wasn’t long before I was smoking dope on the long trip into work, having a few bevies at lunch with the boys and drinking a lot when I got home. I’d wake up most mornings with a hangover and needed a few bongs to get going. I got sacked after less than a year for drinking and driving regularly. I moved back home.
When I was 17-18 years old, I met Pud, who was the biggest dope dealer in town. I became his runner, looking out for him so that he didn’t get knicked by the police. I used to hide large bags of his supply in my garden. Needless to say, I was smoking a lot of dope at this time.
Culture of drinking and drugging
I then got a job with Pud in the industrial cleaning industry that lasted about eight years. We used to service all sorts of industries, such as mining companies, and deal with various large-scale problems, such as oil spills. We also had a major contract with Sydney Water.
I continued drinking heavily and smoking a lot of dope. One of the lads brought in some speed one day and it wasn’t long before we were snorting it off car dashboards. The speed really helped us deal with the long hours and back breaking work. We had access to masses of speed because one of the guys knew someone who was making the stuff. It was high quality stuff and cheap.
I remember one trip back in the car from Sydney international airport. My mate pulled out two syringes and offered me one full of speed. I would never have used a needle normally, but I just thought it a natural thing to do at that particular time. The effects were fantastic and I wouldn’t stop talking the whole two-hour trip home.
We never thought to question what we were doing. It was just part of life. A typical day would start with a couple of cones at 04.30 to get up, then some cones on the way to work. After a day of hard work, I’d inject speed on the way home, then drinking and smoking dope or speed in the evening. Sometimes, I wouldn’t sleep for two weeks at a time. It was madness, thinking back to it. I eventually got my own truck and was constantly drinking and drugging and driving. Amazingly, I never got caught or crashed the truck.
I eventually realised that my friend Fabian had a problem. He was officially warned for sleeping on the job and then had a crash whilst drinking and drugging. Worried about the consequences, he left the car and disappeared back home. He was sacked. Although I was not concerned about my drug use, I cut back on the speed as I had lost contact with my main supplier, Fabian. I felt sick and lousy a lot of the time and would often take a ‘sicky’. I was also self-medicating in an effort to counter the hangovers and general bad feelings.
There was a culture of drinking and drugging in this branch of the company. All the guys were doing it and they only chose new employees who fitted in… and would do the same. They certainly didn’t want to hire anyone who might speak out about what was going on.
On the road
When I was 26, I got engaged to a girl who worked in the mental health field. We were living together, but I was working away and coming home smashed virtually every day. One day, I came home to find her in bed with my best mate. They’d been doing it for three months. I was devastated to find out what was going on and immediately broke off with her. From that moment, I lost respect for women, life and money, and it was a long time before this respect was restored.
I gave up my job and drank and drugged away the payoff money. I was completely lost, just not knowing what to do or how to cope with the situation. I went home to Mum’s and then stayed with a relative in Northern New South Wales. He stole from me and I returned the favour by leaving with two eight balls of his speed. I hitchhiked to Newcastle, constantly snorting the stolen drug.
I was now out of money, out of drugs, resorting to smoking cigarettes butts from the street. I hitchhiked up to Brisbane with a guy who I’d met. An initial job opportunity fell through, but I got offered a job as a bar tender/waiter on Lindeman Island, an island off the Great Barrier Reef. I was on my way to paradise, in more ways than one.
I spent the next nine months drinking, partying and going to work smashed. I would steal large casks of wine and drink these for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I started smoking dope and eventually found a supply of speed on the island. I just wish I had been straight to have enjoyed the area.
I spent most of my drinking time on my own. I was worried about embarrassing myself in company because I would get really ‘****-faced’ and make a fool of myself. The only way I would socialize was if I had been taking speed.
Eventually, I got sick of this life and decided to move on. The company wouldn’t let me leave and I had to work at getting the sack. I left Mackay, spent most of the money on drink and drugs and a ticket to Melbourne. I was back on benefits in the city.
I met up with another heavy drinking friend and we decided to hitchhike to a working hostel he knew in Barmera in South Australia. I was on the move again, not capable of staying long in any one place. Along the way, in the middle of the bush, we found a large bag of dope, the size of a Coles’ shopping bag. All our Christmas’s at once! We were then picked up by a hippie and not long after stopped by the cops. We were bricking it, convinced we would be searched. We weren’t.
I ended up staying in the hostel in Barmera for eight months, working in the orchards and various farms. I joined the backpacking culture of drinking and drugging. In fact, I was the perfect teacher for all those people from abroad who wanted to be part of this Aussie way of life. At lunchtime, we would often go to a bottle shop and purchase bottles of tequila and vodka, and get ourselves smashed whilst picking oranges. I was sleeping with lots of women, showing them no respect at all.
I met a UK girl who wanted to visit Perth. We travelled to Perth on the Indian Pacific railroad. We then went down to Albany to do some woofing, basically working for our accommodation. We worked on an organic farm, a place where there was plenty of wine to drink. I was just very good at hiding my drunken state when working.
The English girl I was with left because she thought I was sleeping with someone else, and after three months the people in Albany helped me to link up with someone in Perth. He was an American, whom I soon learnt was not only running a brothel, but had also overstayed his welcome in Australia. Immigration officials came to drag him away, leaving me ‘in charge’ of his apartment, and his large supply of booze and drugs. It was like Christmas again. I left his apartment when I had finished his supply. I went and stayed with the Salvation Army in East Perth until I burnt that bridge too, having failed to pay any rent.
Avoiding the consequences
I got a job as an arborist (tree surgeon) and linked up with Peter, who was a speed freak. In fact, a number of the arborists who I worked with loved their speed. I moved into a house in Thornlie with Peter and Kerry, who also had a drug problem. Peter knew ‘respectable’ dealers so we got high quality speed at a very decent price. We were still spending $400 a week on the drug.
On Friday night, we would start injecting speed and would continue until Sunday afternoon. I was active all the time during the day, tending the plants in our garden (I loved my orchids), mowing the lawn, fishing, and going for long walks. I always had to be doing something, as I would get bored otherwise. I would smoke dope and drink from Sunday afternoon in order to come down from the speed. Would only start eating on the Sunday afternoon. I would wake up feeling awful on Monday morning.
I generally would not use speed during the week, but if we did we would be really activated and finish off a tree really quickly. The boss, who was not a user, would sometimes comment on how much we’d done and ask what we were on! I’d drink and smoke dope throughout the week. This routine continued for the six months I lived in Thornlie.
During this time, I also met and became good friends with Brendon Humphries of the Fremantle band Kill Devil Hills. I was invited to their gigs but always drank too much and never remembered the end of gigs. Brendon always ended up having to take me home and next day I would have to remember where I had parked the car. Brendon was always trying to get me to cut down on the speed, but with no success.
After Thornlie, I moved to Fremantle where I soon found another crowd of speed users. I just bumped into new crows of users everywhere.
I jumped from place to place until I met a Dutch lady with three kids who offered to rent me a room. We ended up hooking up and were like a married couple with kids. I had always wanted children, but I didn’t know what situation I was getting myself into. In time, we ended up getting a bigger house in a very nice neighborhood.
I didn’t know it when we first met, but my lady friend had a huge drugs habit. I first realised this after the tablets I was given to help me sleep after an operation all disappeared one morning. So we had something in common - we both liked drugs and we both liked drinking. This didn’t help our situation. We were always arguing, and fighting verbally and physically. This took its toll, and I found myself gradually going crazy.
One day, I went to stay with a friend after a massive argument at home that had resulted in me being kicked out. We went out drinking and I got smashed. My friend convinced me that my partner would let me back home, so I headed back to my place. She had changed the locks and in a temper I tried to kick the doors down. The next thing I remember I was lying in a hospital bed feeling very sore. Apparently, she had called the police and there had been quite a scuffle whilst they tried to stop me entering the house.
The Dutch lady took out a restraining order against me so that I was not able to return to my house. I decided that it was time to try and tackle my problem, so signed up for a residential anger management course. The 3-month course was for people involved in domestic violence or having parenting issues. Mind you, this didn’t help the real problem in my life – drugs and alcohol – as I now had a new bunch of friends, each of whom knew dealers and could gain easy access to drugs. In fact, my roommate was a meth amphetamine dealer.
So during this period, I would do a particular lesson on the course or some related activity (maybe a trip) and then come back to the residential centre and drink and drug myself silly for the rest of the time. So this was what one did to learn to manage one’s anger?
As an aside, I later found out from a policeman that I was one of a long list of men who had been served a Violent Restraining Order by the Dutch lady. He told me to forget her and she wasn’t worth the trouble. She needed help, not me, he said! I have always felt very grateful towards this policeman – who I never saw again – as his comment made me feel a lot better.
A moment of clarity
Eventually, I ended up living in a caravan in Palm Beach, near Rockingham. I had sold my car for $50, which bought me two sticks. I got around on an old pushbike from the dump, but ended up selling that. I was just drinking and smoking dope to get blottoed, and often would wake up to find myself covered in vomit. The caravan, like me, was a mess.
I contacted the Salvation Army in Rockingham and they said they could temporarily house me in a house in Mandurah, a town located about 70 kms south of Perth. As far as I remember, I walked to Mandurah, carrying two black bags containing my few possessions, $10 and a cask of wine.
Then came a moment in time I will never forget. I was walking through a small cemetery in Mandurah when I stopped to look at a gravestone and said to myself, “If I keep going with this destructive life, I will end up in a grave, or jail at the very least.” At the time, I didn’t really care. It was a bit of a strange moment in my life, a turning point you could say.
I continued on to the Salvation Army where I met one of their workers, John Stallard, He saw straight through me. He knew I had a big problem and he asked if I want to do something about it. In the ensuing quiet you could hear a pin drop. Then, I just broke down and started crying uncontrollably. He put his hand on my shoulder and for the first time in a long while I felt safe. We spoke for a while and he gave me some options. John knew what I was going through. He had been there himself.
John took me to his place, fed me two meat pies and shared his story with me. This guy is an angel, I said to myself. He then drove me to Perth and dropped me off at Fresh Start, George O’Neill’s clinic. That was the day I started my long road to recovery.
I was given a naltrexone implant two days later. I had been drinking just prior to the operation - I am sure that George smelt it – but I was still very nervous. I also remember being very frightened of the large needle that George used to give me a local anesthetic. I stayed in the Fresh Start’s Med House that night and was driven up next day to their residential Centre in Northam, which is about 100 kms north-east of Perth.
I remember the first day very well. I thought to myself, “What am I doing here? What have I got myself into?’ However, I had made my mind up before the implant operation that I was not going to drink or drug again. I was determined to do something about my addictions.
I did all the necessary paper work and was shown around, before being taken to my room. I was relieved to find I had a room to myself. I then sat on the end of the bed with the two garbage bags that contained my possessions, and had a good cry. For the first time in quite a few years, I started thinking about my family and how much I missed them. Later that day, I was allocated a night to cook dinner and assigned a daily chore.
I had been given the naltrexone implant to abolish my alcohol and drug cravings, and I have to say, I did not experience any cravings. However, I did experience other withdrawal symptoms, such as strong shakes, which lasted about three months. I was very depressed, nauseated and my body felt like a wreck. I was prescribed Effexor, an SSRI antidepressant, and Seroquel, which is usually prescribed for bipolar depression. The latter drug made me sleep a lot in the early days. I remained on these drugs for about eight months.
I spent a good part of my first week in my room alone, reflecting on how I would lead a new life. I found that my emotions flooded back quickly and I spent a lot of time thinking about my family and the damage I had done to them. I hadn’t seen them in years and they didn’t even know if I was alive.
Once the drugs were out of my system in the rehab and I started to feel the full force of emotions, I saw my own narcissism and I was repulsed by this self-centeredness and the damage it had caused. It would have been easy to just give in to these feelings, or hide them with more substances, but something in the words and kindness of John and others, made me decide that I wanted to, and had to, change. There was a future for me if I could change. Therefore, I had to find another way of dealing with these emotions other than use alcohol and drugs.
These feelings were solidified by my experiences in the rehab. There was no single factor that helped me in the early stages of recovery; rather it was a combination of factors. I really began to feel hope, hope and belief that I could and would have a new life. I had been unable to relate to people, but I started to interact with people and make new friends. My isolation began to collapse and I felt that I belonged. People cared about me and wanted to help me. I shared experiences and shared a vision and an understanding.
The Northam rehab does the 12-step programme, using the Recovery Bible. At the time, I thought, ‘The Bible? Oh no, Bible bashers!!’ My first instinct was to run. However, that book helped save my life, and years later I still read it. It contains powerful stuff. I became a Christian during my stay in the rehab and remain one today.
Counselling became a regular thing for me too. In the beginning, I did not like it at all. A guy I did not know was asking personal questions about my life. However, as the weeks went by, my attitude changed and I began to understand what was going on. My inner self started to change. I also wrote to my family a lot and began speaking to them regularly. Over time, I patched up the wrongs that I had done to them. I think this helped me, allowing me to forgive myself and accept the person I was.
I was touched by the kindness of people around me, staff and other patients. Peter and Gloria, who ran the rehab, treated me like a son. They even paid for an airline ticket for me to go and see my family at Christmas. I was amazed that someone as important as George O’Neill always had time for me. Leon, another patient, and I cheered each other up, worked out in the gym and played golf together. This physical activity helped me to relax. It was also needed as I had put on a lot of weight in the rehab, going from 80 to 130 kgs, which I am sure was due to the medication.
As Christmas approached, I thought about my parents a lot. I really wanted to be with them for the holidays, but I didn’t have much money. One day, out of the blue, Peter and Gloria asked me if I wanted to go home for Christmas. I said I would love to, but couldn’t afford it. To my surprise they said, “That’s OK, we want to buy a ticket for you to go and see them.” I just about fell over in shock and I couldn’t hold back the tears. Nobody had ever done anything like this for me in my life. I was so overwhelmed.
I couldn’t have been happier staying for two weeks with my family. It was so good to see everybody. I had not seen my family in six years and my brother was now 12 years old. At the same time, it was nerve racking because I was in my old stomping ground, with all the bad memories. However, I got over them, in large part due to the great support from my family. When I got back to the rehab, I felt refreshed and more determined than ever to have a new life free of all substances,
I started volunteering over at the old hospital in Northam, which Fresh Start were converting. I got to know the project manager, Ian McClure, really well. Quite often we would have a good chinwag while we were swinging sledgehammers or sitting down having a smoke. I found it really easy to communicate with Ian because, as I discovered, he was young and wild once too. He used to talk to me about his younger days and what he used to get up to. I was blown away at what I was hearing. He is such a nice guy you would never expect it.
In a way, Ian was my counselor on the side. He was another person who helped me get deep stuff out of myself and better understand myself. It was like learning about the new me. Learning to live a life without substances. I felt that I had been incarcerated most of my life, but was now free. However, I didn’t know how to do simple things, like pay a bill or make a bed. I had to learn a lot of simple things, even like having a routine in life. Now I feel guilty if I don’t do things properly – I’m known as the neat-freak.
I stayed in the Northam rehab for 10 months. I had a second naltrexone implant halfway through my stay and a third when I left the rehab. I’m still paying off instalments the cost of these implants, but I value how much they helped me as I never experienced any cravings for alcohol or drugs during this time. Having an implant gave me time to get my head together without craving for drugs or alcohol.
A new life
I was lucky to have been given a job by George and his colleagues straight after leaving rehab. I managed and ran the Fresh Start halfway house in Mirabooka for about four months. The half-house comprised people who were entering back into society and gave them a place to live whilst they looked for a job and their own place. They were outpatients to the clinic, receiving counselling and other support services. I then did the same job at a Fresh Start House in Alexander Heights.
I was further down the recovery path than the people who stayed in these houses and I was able to pass on my experiences and knowledge to help them on their own journey. I saw these people relapsing and it made me realise how easy it was to relapse and how fragile early recovery can be, particularly when a person does not have support. I really appreciated where I was in my journey and how careful I needed to continue to be.
In 2008, I headed back to the Eastern States as I had been missing my family. I lived at home for a while but then headed for Sydney to try and get a similar job to what I had before. However, there were no industrial cleaning jobs, so I left for the Hunter Valley to stay with a relative. I managed to get a contract job in the mines, working with abrasive sand cleaning. I travelled around a lot, painting large trucks. I made brilliant money and really enjoyed the work.
Lots of people in this area were drinking excessively and smoking dope, and after a while I started smoking dope as well. It wasn’t much but I began to feel that it was becoming a problem. I eventually tested positive for cannabis during a work drug-testing session and this was the last straw for me. I decided it was time to return to Fresh Start in Perth. During this time – and ever since – I drank no alcohol at all.
Looking back at it, I think my relapse into cannabis use actually made me stronger in my resolve never to drink and drug again, and lead a better life.
On my return, I had another implant and spent a couple of months in the rehab at Northam. I then came out and moved into one of the Fresh Start house in Mt Lawley, completed a community services certificate, and worked at Fresh Start part-time. I then got a full-time position as a Patient Carer/Supervisor.
Reflecting on my addiction and recovery
When I look back to that time in the cemetery and my first meeting with John, it was like I had some kind of emotional/spiritual experience that marked a turning point in my life. At that moment, I shifted from the path to addiction to the path to recovery. This conversion experience was not sufficient in itself to help me on the road to recovery, but it was a necessary element. I was additionally helped by a variety of other factors, such as the kindness and support I received at the rehab.
In my younger days, my addictive behaviours occurred with friends, in a culture of heavy drinking and drugging. However, over time, I changed such that a lot of my substance use occurred when I was alone. I became more isolated from the cultural supports for addiction.
I moved around a lot as the consequences of my addiction became too problematical in each place. If I owed too much money, it was time to move on before trouble occurred. However, as time progressed it became more difficult to escape from my addiction-related consequences. I became more and more cornered, more and more in pain.
I was always good at denying I had a problem. At first I never considered I had a problem. Later, I knew I had a problem. After all, I was homeless I had an alcohol and drug dependency, I had burnt all my bridges, and I had no friends or anyone else to whom I could turn. Finally, my denial system just broke down. With the collapse of my denial system, I experienced a painful and overwhelming vision of the truth. I now loathed myself for all I was doing and had done. I saw my own narcissism and I was repulsed by this self-centeredness. I hated myself for what I had done to my family and to others.
In the cemetery at Mandurah, I saw myself dead or in jail and this really frightened me. I was broken and I surrendered into John’s arms and to all those people who helped me in Perth and Northam.
I made the decision to stop drinking and using and as time moved on I started to see the benefits of this change. I began to see and feel a new me. I began to view the world, and the way I interacted in the world, in a different way. I felt a letting go of my old self, some sort of emotional release or purging of the spirit.
I really began to feel hope, hope and belief that I could and would have a new life. I had been unable to relate to people, but I started to interact with people and make new friends. My isolation began to collapse and I felt that I belonged. People cared about me and wanted to help me. I shared experiences and shared a vision and an understanding.
Now living in the UK and happilly married with a beautiful wife,
dont give up the fight.
if in doubt, reach out.